Supernova (Renegades, #3)

Adrian scurried up beside her and saw what was left of the wooden scaffolding that had supported the tower’s central bells. The pike was still stuck in one of the timbers.

In the end, it took all four of them and an embarrassing amount of straining and grunting for them to pry it free. When the spear finally came loose, they fell backward with a cry, landing in a heap among the stones and mortar. A broken gargoyle dug into Adrian’s hip. Hissing, he grabbed it and threw it back into the pile.

“Phase one complete,” he said. “Now, to get it to the Captain.”

He started to scramble back up when a pair of bare feet appeared a couple of steps away. He froze and let his gaze travel up long golden robes until he was staring into the face of a boy who was probably a few years younger than he was. Despite his age, the uniform suggested that he was a Harbinger, one of the most powerful gangs from the Age of Anarchy.

He wasn’t alone. Villains surrounded Adrian and his friends, including at least one other Harbinger, many of the Cragmoor inmates he recognized from the arena, and a couple of prodigies he vaguely recalled being rejected at Renegade trials. But there were also men and women he had never seen before in his life. A few dozen, at least. Some carried weapons—guns, blades, a tall staff. But most, he knew, would have no need of weapons.

He wanted to believe they’d appeared from the shadows like Phobia would have, because that’s the sort of creepy thing villains did. But no. He and his allies had simply been too preoccupied with getting the pike to hear them approach.

Adrian swallowed, all too aware of his lack of superpowers.

He spread his fingers in what he hoped would be seen as a supplication for peace, but he couldn’t bring himself to put down the spear. Instead, he used it as a prop as he rose to his feet.

“So, um, you might want to put on some shoes before coming any closer?” said Oscar, his voice cutting through the tension. “There’s, like, a lot of jagged pieces around here.”

The two Harbingers studied him, but said nothing.

“Narcissa?” said an older woman who had a shotgun slung over one shoulder. “You’re helping them?”

Adrian cast his gaze to the side. The mirror walker pulled herself from the debris and stood facing her previous allies, her expression distressed. She opened her mouth but hesitated.

“She is,” Adrian answered, with enough conviction to surprise even himself. “And I would ask each of you to help us, too.” He saw a few lifted eyebrows and a few suspicious glares. But no one had attacked them yet, and he couldn’t help but see that as a good sign. “We’ve been enemies a long time. Some of us”—he glanced at the two younger boys—“were probably born enemies. We were raised to hate one another. I’ve been told my whole life that Renegades are the good guys and any prodigy who defies us is an enemy who needs to be destroyed. Or, at least, locked up, far away from the rest of society. But what if we’ve been wrong? I don’t want to fight you. Just like I don’t want to fight Narcissa … and I don’t want to fight Nightmare.” His knuckles whitened around the spear. His muscles tightened, preparing to wield it to defend himself, even as he pleaded with the universe that he wouldn’t have to. “We can stop this. No one else has to die today.”

A man snorted. “Fine speech, Renegade. But it’s easy to make fine speeches when you’re outnumbered.”

“I hate to break this to you,” said Danna, stepping beside Narcissa. “But we aren’t the ones who are outnumbered. The Renegades may not have broken past that barrier yet”—she gestured toward the world beyond the cathedral—“but when they do, there will be thousands of superheroes charging in here, ready to demolish everything they see.”

“Thousands?” said the Crane. “We were at the arena. We saw what those bees did to your ranks.”

“We’ve received reinforcements,” said Danna. “They’ve come from every syndicate around the world. They weren’t going to stand by and let Gatlon City fall. Not to Ace Anarchy.”

The villains exchanged looks, but Adrian couldn’t read them.

“The Renegades are right,” said Narcissa, finding her voice. “When I brought you together, I promised we would find a way to have a better life for ourselves. I still want that. I still believe in that. But Ace Anarchy isn’t the one who’s going to get us there.” She lifted her chin, prepared to accept her fate should her allies turn on her. “Maybe the way we change things is by finally crossing the divide between heroes and villains, rather than blindly lining up for battle, again.”

“We know, Narcissa,” said the older woman. “Believe it or not, we didn’t come down from that tower so we could pick a fight. Not even with the Everhart kid.” She smirked at Adrian. “We joined this mad crusade because it’s time things changed. We deserve a revolution, and that, we’re willing to fight for. But Ace Anarchy … all he sees up there is revenge. All he cares about is destroying Captain Chromium. He’s not doing this for us or for a better world. This isn’t what we signed up for.”

“And now you’re telling us we’re under siege by thousands of Renegades?” said a woman with long wooden fingernails. “Well, what do you think’s gonna happen to us when they get here? You can talk all you want about peace and forgiveness. They’ll slaughter us on sight.”

“And any they don’t,” said a man with neon-yellow skin, “will be shipped right back to Cragmoor.” He shook his head. “I can’t go back there. I’d rather die.”

“So, pretty Everhart boy with the pretty words,” said the older woman, tapping the gun against her shoulder. “You got any other options for us? Because we’re not looking to die today any more than you are.”

Adrian’s mouth had run dry. They were right. He could plead for a truce all he wanted, but as soon as the Renegades arrived, they wouldn’t stop to listen to these prodigies or their requests. They didn’t care about revolution or freedom or acceptance. This was a war. Their enemies must be vanquished, before they could do any more damage.

Would he be able to stop the Renegades? Could he persuade them to put their hatred aside long enough to find resolutions beyond death and imprisonment?

Not today. Not so soon after the battle at the arena. Not with the deaths, the neutralizations, the fight still raging between Ace Anarchy and Captain Chromium. The hatred ran too deep, and change would take time.

But things had to change. And if he wasn’t the one to start it, then who would?

“You can escape through the catacombs,” he said. “Go out through the tunnels into the subway. You’ll be long gone before the Renegades realize it. And if our paths ever cross again … maybe it won’t be as enemies.”

“We can’t go out through the catacombs,” said Narcissa. “Ace closed off the tunnel, piling up a bunch of those marble coffins. To get through there, we’d need—”

“Dynamite?” said a tired, scratchy voice.

Adrian wheeled around. Cyanide was sitting cross-legged inside the bronze bell, his fingers drumming against his knees. When they had been in the bell tower, Cyanide had been intent on killing Adrian. Now he was watching him with an appraising look.

“Uh … yeah,” stammered Narcissa. “Dynamite would probably work.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t have any,” said Cyanide. “But I have a few other concoctions that will do just as well.”

“Settled, then,” said Adrian. “You all get out of here and when this is over, I’ll be the first among the Renegades to advocate for tolerance … or prodigy rights … or whatever it takes to end this war between us. For good.”

Cyanide flashed him a lopsided smirk that showed a few missing teeth. He peeled himself out of the bell and limped toward Adrian, then settled a hand on Adrian’s shoulder. “Just remember. If Nightmare gets killed out there today, I will find you, and I will douse your extremities in an acid that will eat away at your flesh until all that’s left is those fine pearly teeth of yours.”

Adrian pressed his lips together, not so much from fear, but rather to keep from smiling. Funny how a threat could suddenly make him like a guy. “Duly noted.”

Cyanide led the group of villains toward the staircase and the catacombs.

Narcissa hesitated, caught between old allies and new. It was with an apologetic look that she faced Adrian and the others, with a particularly regretful glance at Danna, one that made Adrian suspect the trauma of the past hours had done more to draw them together than any amount of talking ever could.

“I have to go with them,” said Narcissa. “I know I’m not much of a leader, but … I made a lot of promises when I brought them together, and I want to keep those promises. I’m supposed to make sure things change for us, for the better.”

“You will,” said Danna. “And you won’t be doing it alone.” She held out a hand. “Friends?”

Narcissa wilted with relief and took the hand. “Friends.”

After she had gone, Adrian said, “You two could go with them, you know. Might be safer down there.”